A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Archive for January 2011

Dissecting Jim O’Brien’s 2010-2011 Pacers failure

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This morning the Indiana Pacers fired Jim O’Brien. O’Brien had a target on his back for years by Pacer fans and their collapse out of a playoff spot the last few months after a good start finally did it.

Much of the O’Brien criticism were based on inconsistent rotations involving players like Darren Collision and Josh McRoberts. But I’d criticize O’Brien more for a stubborn coaching strategy, shown by some team contradictory team peripherals which caught my eye:

First of all, the Pacers are a defensive orientated team. They have one of the largest gaps between defensive rebounding % (6th) and offensive rebounding % (25th) in the league. The low ORB% indicates leaving players back for transition defense instead of sending them to grab offensive rebounds. The high DRB% indicates sending everyone to grab defensive rebounds instead of having leakouts for fastbreak points. Defense first coaches like Scott Skiles, Larry Brown and Tom Thibodeau have their teams play a similar way. The idea is that while they give away these high efficiency shots at the rim from fastbreak and putback shots, they prevent the other team from getting them just as much. This pushes their DRTGs up and their ORTGs down. Unsurprisingly, the Pacers are 9th in DRTG and 24th in ORTG.

But here’s the contradictory part: The Pacers are 7th in pace as of this morning. Usually defense first teams play at a snail’s pace, especially the ones emphazing DRB% over leaking out. With their defensive rebounding focus the Pacers aren’t scoring a ton of easy fastbreak points, so what explains the fast pace? Rather, rushing the ball up the court and taking quick 3s. The Pacers have one of the largest disparities between shots made from 3pt and at the rim, ranking 7th in 3PM and 27th in FGs made at the rim, according to hoopdata.com. The Pacers ranking 29th in FTs per FGA according to basketball-reference.com also shows their lack of offense inside. This 3pt heavy offense is no surprise for those who’ve followed O’Brien’s career. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

January 31, 2011 at 3:00 pm

2011 NBA POY Watch 1/31

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My version of the NBA MVP list. Updated weekly.

Player (Last Week’s Rank)

1. Derrick Rose (1)

The Bulls keep winning and now have home court advantage over all but 2 teams in the league, and both of those teams are ensemble teams with no real viable MVP candidate. Rose is on everyone’s mind now. I’ll try to expand on this in an article soon, for now, here’s Henry Abbott ranting against people like me who have Rose at #1.

2. Dirk Nowitzki (3)

Dirk’s back. Still not at full strength, but enough for the Mavs to stop their slide. Showing what we’d expect to happen if Dirk was going to climb back to the front of the race.

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Written by Matt Johnson

January 31, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Kobe Theory: Adventures in Distorted Probability

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kb_0563cf

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We saw some fantastic, hard-hitting articles this week about Kobe Bryant‘s clutch reputation. I’ll go over them briefly, and then just talk about what people’s perceptions say about people in general, and running a basketball team specifically.

Henry Abbott at ESPN’s TrueHoop does a great job of just summarizing the fact that despite Kobe‘s reputation as the ultimate clutch performer, all the evidence says this is not the case.

Kelly Dwyer at Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie shows some moxie in making clear that he’s quite comfortable saying that if NBA GM’s don’t see the problem with Kobe’s stats, then the GM’s are in the wrong.

Zach Lowe at SI’s The Point Forward chimes in, but also emphasizes the larger trend that NBA offenses in general do terrible in the clutch. Scoring at far lower rates than they do in the rest of the game.

All very cool stuff. Here’s the most telling fact as I see it: People who reject the numbers here do it by dismissing statistics as not being as valid as what they see, which is an argument that often has merit, but is not valid at all here. So, Why isn’t it valid? and Why are people like this? Read the rest of this entry »

Clijsters the Hustler

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Kim Clijsters is your 2011 Australian Open champion, and she won the final over Li Na in a manner that epitomizes her career. For me it brings to mind an exchange from the 1961 classic, The Hustler:

Bert Gordon: I don’t think there’s a pool player alive shoots better pool than I saw you shoot the other night at Ames. You got talent.
Fast Eddie: So I got talent. So what beat me?
Bert Gordon: Character.

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Written by Matt Johnson

January 29, 2011 at 12:45 pm

My NBA All-Star Picks (given the fans’ voting)

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The fans’ final choices for the NBA all-star game are in. They are:

Western Conference

Guard: Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul

Forward: Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant

Center: Yao Ming

Eastern Conference:

Guard: Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade

Forward: LeBron James, Amare Stoudemire

Center: Dwight Howard

Immediate reaction: Yao, of course, is completely undeserving but at this point it’s just expected that this will happen, and since he’s injury, it’s hard to be bothered by it. The Anthony choice is more annoying because he will play, and he’s not worthy of even being a reserve. Here’s hoping he gets traded to the East, because competition is so weak there his inclusion won’t seem odd.

Other than that, choices seem fine.

My choices for the reserves:

Read the rest of this entry »

Lame Duck Melo = Best Offense in the League?

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So don’t look now but the Denver Nuggets have the best offense in the league. Their offensive efficiency is at 112.4, which is the best in franchise history, and when you account for strength of schedule their performance this year as an offense moves even ahead of the one team this year with a superior raw efficiency (Lakers).

Of course their doing this in a year where their putative superstar, Carmelo Anthony, has told the organization he wants to be somewhere else, and questions and rumors have formed a dark cloud around everyone associated with the Nuggets.

More tangibly, they are doing this in a year where Carmelo has missed 7 games, is playing less per game than in previous years, and most importantly his scoring has dropped from 28.2 PPG to 23.6, while his shooting efficiency has dropped from 54.8% TS to 52.2 (the league average is 54.0%).

I’ve posted before on the question of how good Carmelo is, so you know I’m not a huge fan. It’s funny though, the thought about how good the Nuggets offense is right now just didn’t come to mind. What’s funny is that that whole debate was kickstarted by Nate Silver’s odd argument about Melo making his teammates shoot better. The argument has been shot down, but on a superficial level without looking at previous seasons, this season’s performance by the rest of the Nuggets would seem like a great piece of evidence in Melo’s favor. Teammates Nene, Arron Afflalo, and Chauncey Billups are all shooting at 62% TS or better, which is utterly insane. The best offense from last year had none of their big minute players shooting that well.

So either, Melo’s reached the pinnacle of improving teammate shooting by deciding he doesn’t care about his team any more and going into a personal slump where he plays less than ever, or, the rest of the Nuggets are good enough that it doesn’t make sense for them to stand around while Melo volume scores. And of course, if you don’t want Melo to volume score, why would you want to pay him upwards of 20 million dollars each season?

Written by Matt Johnson

January 27, 2011 at 11:38 am

Why I Love Sports: Green Bay Packers

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Green Bay Packers helmet

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Watching the Green Bay Packers play the Chicago Bears Sunday was about as good as it gets for me as a sports fan. Great game, but really great franchises, and of course the right winner. As we get ready for the Super Bowl, I want to take a moment to write a love letter to what is to me the most compelling sports franchise in American history.

I want to make clear from the start: The Packers are not MY team. I’m from California, and though I do have some family in Wisconsin, the San Diego Chargers are my team…I just wish I could say all this about them.

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2011 NBA POY Watch 1/24

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My version of the NBA MVP list. Updated weekly.

Player (Last Week’s Rank)

1. Derrick Rose (1)

Another week, continued success for the Bulls. With incredible defensive dominance and offensive reliance on Rose, could we be seeing another Iverson-style MVP? This is shaping up to be an MVP race where people meditate and change opinions based on exactly what they decide their philosophy of MVP determination is.

2. Dwight Howard (4)

As others slide, the solid Howard steps up. Still, this Magic team has had a pretty major drop off from last year, hard to imagine Howard will earn his first MVP this year unless his team really catches fire.

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Written by Matt Johnson

January 24, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Defending the Atlanta Hawks and the Joe Johnson contract

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Atlanta Hawks logo

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No move this summer attracted more jokes than the Atlanta Hawks giving Joe Johnson 6 years/126 million which stands as the largest NBA contract to date. Yes, Joe Johnson’s worth is closer to 80 million and once he begins declining in his early 30s while making 22-26 million a year, he could be untradeable. I don’t deny the Hawks overpaid.

But the way to judge this deal is against the alternative: Letting Johnson walk. Which I believe would hurt them just as much as Johnson’s bad contract.

The Hawks won 53 games last season and are pace for a similar record this year. Like the Hornets and Jazz, they’re on the plateau right below contention and looking for a way to make “the leap”.

Regardless of the disbelief in the team’s upside to contend for a title (which I will address later), it’s really, really hard to even get to this spot as a low 50 win team. The droughts between 50 win seasons for franchises can span decades as fans of the Clippers, Grizzlies, Warriors, Raptors and plenty other teams will tell you.

If the Hawks have come this far with the Johnson, Smith and Horford combination, why turn back? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

January 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm

The Empire State Wears No Clothes: Amare is NOT the MVP

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Amar'e addresses the masses

Image by Chamber of Fear via Flickr

Wow.  Alright, we’re have halfway through the NBA season, and the MVP race is the strangest I’ve ever followed.  Every candidate has a mark against them, and no one really would have a chance against the competition from last season, despite the fact that it’s all the same players and then some in the pool of candidates.  It’s tough, I know, but that’s no excuse for this fellas.

Sports Illustrated check came out with their mid-year awards, and if you take their writers’ votes and tally them up, Amare Stoudemire is their choice for MVP.  They aren’t alone.  nba.com’s Race to the MVP has Amare at #1, ESPN’s Awards Watch has Amare at #3.  That’s as good of a collection of the established media as we’re going to get right now in an award the media votes for – and they’re telling us Amare is the favorite for the MVP right now.  I keep my own weekly MVP list because I really enjoy thinking about this stuff, and because I respect the NBA’s MVP.  It’s fashionable to knock it, but I always defend the voters.  But this, folks, is just crazy.  Excuse me while I get on this here soap box so I can talk y’all down.

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Written by Matt Johnson

January 21, 2011 at 2:02 am